by Joe Gabriele Managing Editor
The Optimist

First Annual | Second Annual | Third Annual | Fourth Annual |
Fifth Annual | Sixth Annual | Seventh Annual | Eighth Annual Awards Banquet, Part I

Shalom, Cavalier faithful! It’s me, the Optimist – your co-host in today’s unprecedented second installment of the EIGHTH ANNUAL OPTIMIST AWARDS BANQUET.

Like Jerry Lewis in the wee hours of the Muscular Dystrophy Telethon, I’m still going strong. But I have to warn you readers: They always say the sequel isn’t as good as the original. And today’s column is no exception.

Don’t get me wrong: today’s Part II is still chockfull of chips from the chocolate fireball. And once again, I’ve invited a special guest to assist me with the proceedings.

Last Monday, J.J. Hickson – resplendent in white-on-white, tux-and-tails – did an exemplary job with Part I of the awards. And for today’s banquet, I wanted to get another enthusiastic Cleveland sports celebrity; someone equally comfortable on the big stage, but also willing to dress the part of co-emcee.

Browns cornerback Joe Haden – an ardent Cavaliers supporter all season – fit the bill.

All season long, Haden attended games in his normal attire. But down the stretch, Joltin’ Joe began the unparalleled tradition of actually dressing like a Cavalier at home games. One game, he sported the Anderson Varejao wig and uniform: number 17 jersey, game shorts, socks, wrist bands – the whole nine yards. The next, he was in Baron Davis attire (pictured, left) – complete with a painted-in beard.

I was hoping Haden wouldn’t try imitating Yours Truly for Part II of the banquet. I’m just too nuanced and complex to be mimicked like I’m some sort of caricature.

Luckily, Joe Haden dressed in his normal gear for the Awards. I couldn’t have done anything about it anyway. He looks somewhat harmless, but the former Gator’ll give you a forearm shiver to the solar plexus that’ll have you pooping blood for a week.

I don’t want that.

I just want to hand out the hardware and I think we’re ready to do just that. So let’s get it on …

2010-11 Optimist All-Arena Team

I’ve stated on many occasions that Cleveland has the best arena and the best fans in the NBA. That’s no jive-job, my friends. I’ve been to every gym in the league, and I speak from experience.

No fans kick it for 48 minutes like Cavalier fans. No mascot is as talented, versatile and funny as Moondog. No girls are as foxy as our Cavalier Girls. And even the Hornets P.A. announcer, for example, couldn’t make a Marco Bellinelli make sound sweeter than the swarthy Olivier Sedra.

But there are some great things out there on the road.

Madison Square Garden is a dump by modern building standards, but watching a game there always feels like a big event. I always look forward to the Lakers baritone P.A. man, Lawrence Tanter’s simple two-word introduction: “Laker Girls.” I even kinda like that they do opening prayers in Oklahoma City.

But here are my arena favorites from this year’s journey across the National B.A. landscape …

Red Panda Acrobat
Anybody can do this. Doing it while riding a 10-foot high unicycle makes it really impressive.

Mavs ManiAAcs
Really fat guys and really little guys dancing around in silly costumes. Shall I go on?

Clippers Spirit Dance Team
Rescued Christian Eyenga when a knife-wielding maniac broke into the Staples Center.

Deceptively cute Rockets mascot's VIDEO makes me laugh hard every single time. Either he's hilarious or I'm sick or both.

Squad Six
Andrew Bogut's rowdy, funny, international cheering section at the Bradley Center is one of the league's coolest organic bits.

2010-11 Optimist All-Hangout Team

With the kind of jack that Dan Gilbert pays me, I could easily eat at any restaurant I choose when we’re on the road. And when I’m not firing up the hotplate in my motel room, I usually am.

But you readers know that I am A MAN OF THE PEOPLE.

Sure, I enjoy the finer things in life. But I can also consume enough fast food to make Morgan Spurlock puke. And I’m no stranger to some of the road’s mangiest outposts.

The following honorees in this year’s inaugural All-Hangout Team are somewhere in between. (Except for the semi-swanky St. Elmo’s.)

Like you readers, I think Cleveland is the Best Location in the Nation, a veritable garden of earthly delights. But when the Team Bus drops anchor in an NBA town, these are some of the haunts that I truly enjoy. And if you’re ever in one of these NBA cities, I highly recommend stopping in to see for yourself.

Barney's Beanery
(Los Angeles)
Legendary L.A. watering hole – (and the last place Janis Joplin partied) – has the greatest bar-food menu known to mankind.

Kelly's Olympian
Good food, countless brews, live music next door and outside there's always a place to park your hog.

Nye's Polonaise
Once named the coolest bar in the country, and looking at Ruth Adams, leader of the World's Most Dangerous Polka Band, who could disagree?

St. Elmo's Steakhouse
World-famous shrimp cocktail with shrimp the size of Yao Ming's toes and sauce that'll have you shooting flames out of AT LEAST one end.

Old Absinthe House
(New Orleans)
I don't remember

2010-11 Optimist All-Dead Team

At some point during the Academy Awards, the Golden Globes or even the ESPYs, the proceedings pause for an emotional moment of silence to honor industry favorites who have passed on.

This cheeses me off. Nobody honors the fallen more than I do. When a celebrity takes a dirt nap, I don’t wait until some gala, black-tie event to break the news. It’s right there in that day’s column.

But since I do have you all gathered at the gala, black-tie banquet, I’ve decided to introduce the inaugural All-Dead Team.

This year, we honor luminaries like Leslie Nielsen, Sidney Lumet, Elizabeth Taylor, Nate Dogg, Geraldine Ferraro, blues guitarist Little Smokey Smothers, Jane Russell, DJ Megatron, Bronko Nagurski, Jr., Duke Snider, former Malaysian prime minister Tan Tiong Hong, Don Kirshner (of “Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert”), Dino De Laurentiis, Russian theater critic Vitaly Vulf, former Bucs skipper Chuck Tanner, Jill Clayburgh, Jack LaLane, Pakistani comedian Babu Baral, Captain Beefheart, supercentenarians Margaret Fish (112) and Frank Buckles (110), Dandy Don Meredith, Blake Edwards and, of course, Kirk Wipper – founder of the Canadian Canoe Museum.

And as deeply as these losses cut us this past year, none of them made it to the First Team, like some of the furry flatliners below. Losses to the animal kingdom also claimed those close to the Cavaliers family – namely Jaime Diewald’s turtle, Bellvue (pneumonia) and Jeff Schaefer’s dog, Hobbes (old age).

So, please, take a moment to closeth thy cakeholes and removeth thy hats and/or hairpieces as we honor the fallen with this year-end Moment of Silence™

Born in captivity at the Berlin Zoo, the celebrity polar bear spawned “Knutmania” – netting the zoo over 5 million euros.
Knut got this ball.

My personal favorite, Paul correctly predicted the German soccer team's seven matches in the 2010 World Cup, including the final – bless his squishy little soul.

Like Uga VII, Uga VIII lasted only one season before heading between those great hedges in the sky. Both were replaced by interim bulldog, Russ – Uga VII’s half-brother.

Leader of a baboon gang that terrorized tourists and locals in Cape Town, South Africa. Imprisoned and eventually sentenced to death. Not even sure why he’s on the Team.

Prince Chunk
Found in New Jersey, Prince Chunk weighed in at 44 pounds – with cholesterol through the roof. Found a Louisiana license plate inside when they cut this fat cat open.

The 2010-11 Golden Tait Award

This year, we witnessed the bittersweet end of an era in Cavaliers basketball – the retirement of the great Joe Tait after 39 years as the voice of the franchise.

As sad as it is to see Joe leave, it’s an opportunity for Cleveland’s lovable curmudgeon to spend some time relaxing with his wife, Jean, on their farm in LaFayette. And with his banner now hanging in the rafters at The Q, Joe will always be a part of us.

During this difficult year, as Joe recovered from cardiac surgery away from the court, and the Cavaliers faced some tough times on it, the Wine and Gold’s broadcast team remained rock solid.

So this year, we’re introducing the inaugural Golden Tait Award for Cavaliers broadcasting excellence – and naturally naming Joe Tait as the 2010-11 winner.

That doesn’t diminish the accomplishments of this year’s well-deserving list of nominees. Where would we be without A.C. telling us who got themselves a bird or Freddy Mac describing a rubber rim job? What if Mike Snyder thought double-duty was too tough or Dionne didn’t feel like returning to work after having her baby?

These honorees are some of the best in the business and after the 2011-12 season, one of them will take home this extremely prestigious trophy. In Part I of the EIGHTH ANNUAL OPTIMIST AWARDS BANQUET, we closed by awarding the Golden Cajones Award to Byron Scott.

So if you think it’s pretty cool for Coach to be walking around with a set of gold cajones, imagine how great next year’s winner will feel sporting a Golden Tait!

Fred McLeod
Great guy. Great hair. Literally the hardest-working man in show biz.

Jeff Phelps
Players love Phelpsie, coaches love Phelpsie. Everyone loves Phelpsie.

Dionne Miller
Who else could make a 26-game losing streak look this good?

Jim Chones
Is one deeply philosophical dude.

Mike Snyder
The consummate pro also did his WTAM and Browns thing and never broke stride.

Scott Zurilla
Was Cavaliers Radio's Mr. Everything during a tough season.

Mr. Cavalier
The great Austin Carr is the most colorful color man in the business.

The Nominees

The Voice of
the Cavaliers